If you’re new to the gluten-free concept, whether you were recently advised by your doctor to scale back or simply taking it upon yourself to try following a gluten-free (GF) diet, you might assume that this means all fast food is off the table. This can be especially challenging if you love a good burger or sandwich, since not every restaurant carries gluten-free buns or offers alternative options to wrap up your sammy’s contents. However, there are actually plenty of gluten-free fast food menu options available to eat—the key to identifying these items is first knowing where to look and then what to look for.
To help make this search easier for you, below is a breakdown of the best gluten-free fast-food menu items you can find at a handful of go-to, fast-food spots. But before you can choose the best gluten-free fast-food meal for you, it’s important to understand some of the motives behind why people eat GF food. This understanding can inform some of your decision-making the next time you visit a drive-thru.
“For those who have celiac disease, gluten-free is a necessity, not a preference. This means that if they want to eat fast food or go through a drive-thru, they only can if the fast food chain offers gluten-free options,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Expert Medical Board. “There are others who might eat gluten-free due to preference, meaning that they are not allergic to gluten and it may not make them sick, they just choose not to eat it for a variety of reasons.”
Why eat gluten-free fast food?
“For these individuals, they might seek out fast food chains that serve gluten-free items to match their eating pattern,” explains Goodson. “While some perceive gluten-free foods to be ‘healthier’ than others that contain gluten, that is just not true. Gluten is a protein in wheat and is not bad for you unless you are allergic to it.”
“Many fast-food restaurants now offer gluten-free menu items—such as buns, wraps, and pizza crusts—to cater to customers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity,” says Best. “Some restaurants also offer gluten-free sauces and dressings. Examples of fast-food restaurants that offer gluten-free options include Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell.”
Is gluten unhealthy to eat?
“Fast-food restaurants are required by law to provide allergen information, including information about gluten, on their menus,” says Best. “Many restaurants now provide this information on their websites or through allergen guides available in-store. This information can help people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity make informed decisions about what to order.”
“Some fast-food restaurants have partnered with gluten-free brands to offer more options for customers,” says Best. “For example, Subway [and Smashburger] partnered with gluten-free brand Udi’s to offer gluten-free bread.”
How have restaurants become more accommodating to GF eaters?
“Fast-food restaurants have also implemented training and procedures to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, which is a concern for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity,” says Best. “This may include separate preparation areas for gluten-free items, using dedicated utensils and equipment, and providing staff with training on how to handle gluten-free orders.”
“People who follow a gluten-free diet should be mindful of potential health risks when eating at a fast-food restaurant,” says Best. “Cross-contamination is a common concern, as gluten-free foods may come into contact with gluten-containing foods during preparation. This can happen through shared utensils, cooking surfaces, or fryers.”
“Additionally, some gluten-free options may still contain small amounts of gluten, which can be harmful to people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity,” warns Best. “It’s important to ask about preparation methods, read labels, and communicate any dietary restrictions to the restaurant staff to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and ensure a safe dining experience.”
If you’re vocal about your needs, ask questions, and are careful to read all the fine print on the labels, figuring out which menu items are actually gluten-free can be a breeze. However, we know when you need to grab something and go, reviewing long menus with a fine-toothed comb is easier said than done. So to help you order a genuinely gluten-free fast-food meal in a flash, we took the liberty of identifying a few of the best gluten-free fast-food items you can order at 10 fast-food spots.
“McDonald’s does not currently certify any of its menu items as gluten-free, meaning there is no guarantee against cross-contamination for any of their foods,” notes Goodson. “Since McDonald’s no longer offers salads, gluten-free options are limited, but include a plain beef patty (without the bun), fruit and maple oatmeal, Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs, sausage, and a side of apple slices,” she suggests. “You can also opt for their strawberry banana or mango pineapple smoothie.”